Beer lovers braved the rain Tuesday night to get a taste of some hard-to-find special Old Rasputin beers at Monk’s Kettle’s first vertical tasting event.

A “horizontal” tasting is done by sampling the same kind of beer from several breweries. A “vertical” tasting, on the other hand, means tasting different vintages of beer made by the same brewery. This allows one to see how the beer has changed from year to year and taste the evolving recipes.

Co-owner Christian Albertson explained that Old Rasputin makes a natural choice for a tasting because of its rarity on the market. The North Coast Brewery, located in Fort Bragg on Mendocino’s coast, makes small batches of anniversary edition barrel-aged ales but usually sells only locally. Monk’s Kettle was able to get their hands on one of the two kegs of last year’s anniversary ales, a regular stout, and this year’s 12th anniversary version.

Bartender and certified Cicerone—a beer sommelier certification program—Sayre Piotrkowski, works with Executive Chef Kevin Kroger to create a menu that will complement or contrast a beer selection.

“One of the saddest things is that great beer is usually served in places with shitty food,” Piotrkowski said. He wanted to change that by creating menus as tasty as the drinks.

“With wine, they almost always strive for balance whereas when you’re pairing beer, you don’t always want that balance,” he added.

For last night’s tasting, in addition to a menu that included mushroom and cheddar bruschetta, a Rogue River blue cheese plate, and short ribs braised in Old Rasputin beer, the staff chose local chocolate-maker TCHO to pair with the Russian imperial stouts.

“You usually start with the smallest beer and build up to the bigger beer,” Piotrkowski said.

When pairing food with beer, there are two things to consider – malt and hops. The malt in a beer, Piotrkowski explained, is like the fat or spice content. The amount of hops used to make the beer gives it more or less bitterness. The higher the original gravity, a measure of the sugar content before the fermentation process begins, the more hops the beer can hold.

Tuesday night’s tasting started with a glass of regular 9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) Old Rasputin stout, as dark as a strong cup of coffee. The creamy texture, often associated with Guinness, is achieved by adding nitrogen to the tap, which also makes the drink a little flatter than other beers.

To pair with the beer was a selection of San Francisco-made TCHO chocolate coins and chocolate-covered cocoa nibs that ranged from citrus to nutty flavors.

Second in the tasting was the rare 11th anniversary stout made in the spring of 2008. Aged in bourbon oak barrels, the 11.6 percent ABV stout may have had a higher alcohol content but tasted lighter than the regular stout. It had hints of vanilla and chocolate which made it great to sip while eating the floral-flavored cocoa nibs.

The 12th anniversary stout, also aged in bourbon barrels for a year, was approximately 11.5 percent ABV, with hints of vanilla, molasses and chocolate.

For those wondering how to go about your first beer tasting, there is no wrong way to start tasting beer. Sip, pick and choose food to pair, enjoy and repeat.

Monk’s Kettle is organizing a four-course New Year’s Eve dinner with Pauwel Kwak, La Trappe Isid’Or, Koningshoeven Dubbel, Tripel Karmeliet & DeuS beer pairings. In addition, more vertical beer tastings are planned for the future, check their website for information.